How To Navigate Online College Courses As A Student With A Disability | Best colleges


As the fall semester begins and students return to class, many are doing so virtually. Colleges are taking coronavirus prevention precautions, with hundreds opting for fully or partially online courses.

But what does switching to online courses mean for students with disabilities?

To get a sense of what to expect, it can be helpful to look back on the spring semester, when campuses closed and classes suddenly moved online, forcing students with disabilities to make quick adjustments.

Spring Semester Lessons Learned Online

One of the perks college officials should plan for the fall is the possibility of reversing the spring of COVID-19.

“Accommodations that had been approved for (face-to-face) communication were re-examined, based on the needs of students with disabilities,” wrote Mary Lee Vance, director of student disability services at California State University — Sacramento, in a report. E-mail.

Although “not all students need to change accommodation,” she adds, those who have often need more time to browse online exams or view their services. assistance moved to remote assistance.

Brian Flatley, associate director of the Student Access Office at Adelphi University in New York City, said the support there “hasn’t really changed, but the method of support has changed” during the spring semester.

Flatley cites closed captions and transcripts for online courses, software that takes notes from audio recordings, and technology that describes graphics, charts and other items to the visually impaired as examples of accommodations. provided to Adelphi students last spring when classes were fully online.

Some colleges have also eased the pressure of suddenly switching to online courses by adopting pass-fail grading models, extending deadlines for dropping out of classes, or making other arrangements to help students, Vance says.

But challenges for students with disabilities persist across the United States

John Scott, product manager for Blackboard Ally, explains that an analysis of 500 U.S. universities by the learning management system vendor found that more than 50% of PDFs in courses had accessibility issues. This disturbing trend came at a time when PDFs were being uploaded to classes at a rate almost twice as high as in the spring of 2019.

A survey by the Association on Higher Education and Disability found that students with disabilities were more likely to have difficulty accessing the Internet, technology training and support, course materials and assessments, as well as use learning management systems and communicate with instructors.

Anjali Forber-Pratt, a professor at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee who has researched disability issues, says that despite the best efforts of colleges, it is likely that some students with disabilities were disadvantaged in the spring. This experience, Forber-Pratt said, should help colleges find the right accommodations as students begin the new academic year.

“The positives and negatives, especially in the spring, can help us as we look to the fall to try not to make the same mistakes again, to try to really learn from those experiences,” she says.

Online accommodation for students with disabilities this fall

Rosemary Garabedian, director of the Student Access Office at Adelphi, notes that the challenges of online learning will vary for students with disabilities, depending on their needs. For example, a student with mobility issues may find online courses easier while a peer with Attention Deficit Disorder may face more challenges.

In either case, his office would work with students on a case-by-case basis to provide accommodations. And the Student Access Office, which goes by different names depending on the college, is where it all begins.

Students who require accommodation should visit – in person or virtually – the office responsible for accessibility issues. Officials can help coordinate the necessary course accommodations.

At Adelphi, “the first step is for them to be referred to the Student Access Office,” Garabedian explains. “We do an initial assessment, answer students’ questions and review any kind of documentation they provide. “

From there, students are asked to determine what accommodations are needed, and the office works with individuals to implement those measures in what Garabedian describes as a collaborative process.

Incoming students working with disability services should expect colleges to be flexible at this unprecedented time caused by the coronavirus, Garabedian says. “Usually we want some documentation before we provide accommodation, but depending on what happens we know we have to be flexible. “

The challenges posed by the novel coronavirus may affect some students with disabilities more than others.

Blind students, for example, may have difficulty with interactive components of online courses such as chats or surveys.

“Not all learning technologies are created equal,” says Forber-Pratt.

Hearing-impaired students may be well served by transcripts and closed captions for lectures, but video calls can be a challenge for students who rely on lip-reading if other participants choose to use only the audio feature. .

Regardless of the challenges, students should bring their concerns to the Disability Services office at their college. Students are entitled to housing under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

“Students should let their campus know if they are not able to use the website or learning platform they need so that they can get the necessary information in (a) other format”, explains Vance.

The accommodations available for students with disabilities depend in large part on their needs. Individual conditions vary. Some students may be born with disabilities, while others may acquire them later in life, experts say.

“For example, if a student has a newly diagnosed clinical depression, they should contact their campus office (Disability Services) as soon as possible, to be guided through the adjustment process, with appropriate referrals. “says Vance. “There are many obstacles we are facing right now and we are committed to making the best choices, however, we are not mind readers. Students have rights, but they also have responsibilities. “

How COVID-19 can reshape online education for students with disabilities

Beyond the fall, disability experts and advocates see both potential positives and negatives.

“So much is unknown regarding the long-term and short-term effects of COVID-19,” Vance said. “For example, we don’t know how many students, due to newly acquired conditions, will be covered by ADA and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act who will need academic accommodations. Already we can observe that there is an increase in people identifying themselves as suffering from clinical depression and anxiety. “

But there are bright spots in terms of course design, experts say, which they believe will become more accessible.

Virtual office hours, for example, can benefit students with mobility challenges. Virtual presentations can be useful for students with anxiety issues who find it difficult to stand in front of their peers in a physical classroom.

“I hope some of the goodwill will remain because we have now shown that it is possible,” said Forber-Pratt, a benchmark for making course design more inclusive and accessible to students with disabilities.

But above all, students need to speak up and share their needs with faculty and staff at their college, she says.

“Be the best self-advocate you can be. All of us, as teachers, as instructors, want our students to be successful and we want to make sure their needs are met, but we don’t know what we don’t know. not know. “


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